Foucault: The Birth of Power Update 3 – Théories et institutions pénales and activist work on health and asylums

FBP update 3Since the last update, I’ve been working on two aspects of this project.

The first was on the 1971-72 course Théories et institutions pénales, for Chapter Two. There are two main parts of the course, on the Nu-Pieds revolts of the mid-seventeenth century and then the birth of the monarchical state and the medieval rebirth of the inquiry. I spoke about the second in Nottingham earlier this month (a few thoughts here); and will be speaking about the first at the Historical Materialism conference in London in November. In working on these I took a look at some of Foucault’s sources, helped by the course’s editorial notes, but also by Foucault’s own reading notes archived in Paris. In particular, for the London event I’ll be talking about Foucault’s use of Boris Porshnev’s work. I say a bit more about the key text here, and appeal for help with his texts on feudalism here.

The second was on some of Foucault’s activism in the early 1970s. Although I will of course discuss the Groupe d’information sur les prisons (GIP), I was already fairly familiar with their material, and the story there is reasonably well-known. I will return to that group at some later stage. Much less clear is the story of Foucault’s contacts with two other groups on the model of the GIP – the Groupe Information Santé (GIS) and the Groupe Information Asiles (GIA). Foucault was actively involved in the former in its early stages, but only attended a single meeting of the latter, apparently leaving without any contribution. Both groups have interesting histories. While the archives of the GIP are in IMEC, and many documents have been published in France (an English translation of a lot of the material is forthcoming), with the GIS and the GIA the traces are harder to find. In his biography of Foucault David Macey suggests that the GIS “has left few documentary traces of its existence”, but that’s not entirely true.

I plan to go back to IMEC at some point, and I think they have some material from the GIS, but a bit of hunting around online bookstores earlier this year helped me find copies of two of the key texts – the GIS’s Oui, nous avortons and the GIA’s Psychiatrie: La peur change de camp, though the latter is also available online. I have a copy of a second GIS report, La médecine desordonnée, on order. Foucault and some doctors in the GIS published a brief manifesto in 1973 – strangely not in Dits et écrits or most English bibliographies. I have a copy, but am trying to get hold of the original journal issue it was printed in so I can take a look at the surrounding texts. The archives of the GIS are deposited at the Centre des Archives du Féminisme at the University of Angers. This archive is catalogued by Lucy Halliday, “Fonds GIS (Groupe Information Santé); Fonds Sylvie Rosenberg-Reiner” – online here. I’m not sure that a special visit to Angers is needed, given Foucault’s involvement was only at the very start, and there may be enough at IMEC, but this remains a possibility.

The GIA still exists, though in quite a different form, and has a website here. An open-access archive of all the issues of its journal Tankonalasanté is available here, and I was able to pick up a copy of a selection of its texts fairly easily, published by Maspero in 1975. The journal is fascinating as an insight into the concerns of the group and a wider network, including the GIS, and the production style and possibilities of activist texts at the time. Foucault’s role in the GIS is not always clear, and I don’t want to put someone else’s words into his mouth, so I am trying to discuss the groups in themselves without over-emphasising his involvement. That’s obviously even more important in terms of the GIA. But all three groups are part of the wider context in which his publications and courses are situated, and the plan at the moment is the activist work on asylums, prisons and health is discussed in the separate chapters on those themes (chapters Four to Six) rather than together, but this might change. I’ve written about 3000 words on the GIS, and can imagine doing that or more for the GIP. I don’t think there is much to say about the GIA, so it may be that I treat that more briefly alongside the GIS.

The next task is to go back and try to complete drafts of Chapters One and Two, which I’m hoping to do over the next few weeks.

You can read more about these books, along with links to previous updates, here. And, as a reminder, a lot of resources I produced while writing Foucault’s Last Decade are available here. It includes a list of audio files, a bibliography of collaborative projects, a list of short pieces which did not appear in Dits et écrits, comparison of variant forms of texts, a few short translations, and so on.

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2 Responses to Foucault: The Birth of Power Update 3 – Théories et institutions pénales and activist work on health and asylums

  1. Pingback: Top posts on Progressive Geographies this week | Progressive Geographies

  2. Pingback: Foucault: The Birth of Power Update 4 – collaborative work and a complete draft of Chapter One on the Lectures on the Will to Know and related materials | Progressive Geographies

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